MANILA, Philippines — A small group of students and faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University were wrapping up a rally for victims of the war on drugs Thursday evening at Gate 2.5 facing Katipunan Avenue when two policemen dropped by asking for the names of the organizers and asking protesters what they were fighting for.
ADMU’s student publication The Guidon reported that the attendees “were advised to enter school premises, and dispersed safely” even as the policemen “attempted to speak to faculty attendees.”
USAD Ateneo de Manila, a student political party whose members attended the rally, called the incident an attempt to scare the protesters and prevent them from airing their sentiments.
A student who attended the mobilization as well as other protests inside and outside of campus called it their first experience of police acting this way. “And I think that’s why we were all so scared. They just stopped along the road and did not even bother to be friendly at first,” the student, who asked not to be named, told InterAksyon in a Facebook interview on Friday.
“I experienced firsthand kung paano mamalakad ang mga pulis kung may mga rally (how the police behave during rallies). I was at People Power Monument at least twice a week during the Marcos burial and I saw how the protesters and police co-existed there. There was no intimidation back then. They were just there to make sure the rally was peaceful. Back then, I wasn’t scared to ask them for directions to the bathroom, etcetera. Pero kagabi, iba ‘yun eh (But last night was different). Those two uniformed officers aimed to intimidate,” the student said.
Having come from class, the student arrived at Gate 2.5 at about 8:05 p.m. and found about 20 to 30 people there, with someone reading the names of victims and discussing the police’s account of how they were killed.
Protesters carried placards that read, “No to EJKs,” “End impunity,” and “Stop the killings” and chanted, “Tama na, itigil na (It’s too much, it must end),” “Busina para sa hustisya (Honk for justice),” and “Sino ang lalaban? Tayo ang lalaban (Who will fight? We will fight)!”
The protest ended around 8:40 p.m. with protesters leaving candles and placards in front of the gate. It was at this point that the police patrol car passed by, the student said.
“I thought it was just passing by but it started slowing down and came to a full stop. I got scared at that point so I stepped away from the crowd ’cause I was smack dab in the middle. I watched from the stairs [of the adjacent overpass] and two officers came out … They just stood there and only two or three people came forward and asked what they wanted. One woman went up to them,” the student recalled.
The student could not hear what was happening, but saw the protesters turn around to face the police. After five minutes, the policemen were still there, so the student decided to come closer.
“An older guy was leaving and I heard him say, ‘Alis na kayo, may baril mga ‘yan eh (You should go, they have guns).’ That stopped me cold on my tracks and I returned to the stairs. After a few more minutes there were murmurs and everyone was looking confused. I didn’t hear what was said but the people put out the candles and picked up the placards. Sabi ng babae na nagtanong sa pulis, nagtanong daw ang pulis kung ano daw ba pinaglalaban namin (The woman who talked to the police said the police was asking what we were fighting for). That shook me up ’cause I’ve been to rallies before but that was never asked of us,” the student said.
Asked if the school guards stepped in when the police arrived, the student said no, surmising they were probably caught unawares as well. “This was the first time this happened so no one really knew how to react.”
The security officer who regularly mans the overpass also did not step in, the student said.
“The police didn’t approach them and vice versa. Wala talagang lumalapit sa mga pulis (There was really no one approaching the police) except for that one lady and one guy, I think he was a student. He stood right in front of the police and started recording on his phone,” the student said.
The Guidon reported, “An Ateneo security guard was also asked if they were able to scan the policemen’s faces, however the guard reported that the policemen turned around.”
The Philippine National Police Handbook as of December 2013 contains the following guidelines for handling rallies:
“Public assemblies held in freedom parks or on private property do not need a permit for the activity. Public assembly with permit or one held in a freedom park or private property shall not be dispersed as long as it remains peaceful and no incidence of violence occurs…
The PNP shall not interfere with the holding of a public assembly. However, to ensure public safety and to maintain peace and order during the assembly, the police contingent under the command of a PCO preferably with the rank of Police Senior Inspector may be detailed and stationed in a place at least one hundred (100) meters away from the area of activity.
It shall be prohibited for a police officer to commit the following acts during peaceful assembly: obstructing, impeding, disrupting or otherwise denying the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly…
To ensure the protection, safety and welfare of the public and demonstrators as well, the following must be observed:
(1) Confined Assemblies in Private Property (Churches, Schools, etc.)
(a) Initiate the conduct of dialogue with the leaders/organizers.
(b) Secure and maintain order within the perimeter.”
“(The incident) cemented my fear and anger towards the PNP,” the student said. “I used to always trust authorities, but when I went to Ateneo, I started questioning the justice system of this country.”
Another rally was planned for Friday afternoon. “Students are angry and are anxious to fight back,” the student said, adding that before last night’s mobilization ended, the students and faculty members were talking about staging protest actions every Thursday, and lighting candles at exactly 8:24 p.m., the time 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos was killed in Caloocan City on August 16 according to CCTV footage.
“Not even [to] chant, but simply start a community and exchange stories, ideas, and voice out opinions. I thought that was really beautiful, and the 8:24 was a good symbolic commemoration,” the student said.
There was also talk of schools along Katipunan coming together to stage a single event.
“I hope my peers realize na ang demokrasyang madalas nating abusuhin ay pribilehiyo na pala sa mga panahong ito (the democracy we often abuse has already become a privilege these days). And I hope the people who fight with me on the streets do not lose that fire within them. Nakakapagod din kasi (It can be tiring), but we must forge on. Hindi puwedeng sumuko (We can’t give up), especially now that something like this has happened,” the student said.
“I would like them to know that we are not afraid. We will not be bullied into silence. Ateneo gave us Rizal and Jopson and so many more young heroes. We will not disappoint our heroes. They haven’t seen One Big Fight yet,” the student said.
But Chief Inspector Titoy Cudan, head of the Quezon City Police District’s Public Information Office, said it was just part of the police’s duties to check up on rallies, especially if they occurred along busy roads.
“Every time na merong ganyan, kung mapapansin niyo sa [Quezon Memorial] Circle, sa harap ng HOR (House of Representatives), every day merong ganun, may mga nagra-rally. So pinupuntahan talaga ‘yan ng mga pulis natin na nakaka-area doon para alamin kung sino ang grupo, ano ang cause, ilan sila. Then after makuha niyan, may reporting system kami… ‘Yun din ang hinihingi ng media na minsan ay hindi nakakapunta, ‘Sir, ilan na ba ang crowd?’” he told InterAksyon in a phone interview.
(“Every time there is something like this, if you will notice, people rally in front of the Circle and the HOR every day, the police who are assigned to that area really go there to find out who the group is, what their cause is, how many they are. Then after getting that information, we have a reporting system… That’s also what the media asks for when they can’t go themselves sometimes, ‘Sir, how big is the crowd now?'”)
Cudan added that it was also the police’s job to ensure that rallies do not interfere with traffic, especially since Ateneo’s Gate 2.5 was just along Katipunan Avenue, a busy thoroughfare.
“So, same sa People Power Monument… ‘Yung ginagawa namin, pinapatauhan namin doon just in case lang sumobra at nasa kalsada na (It’s just like what we do at the People Power Monument… What we do is, we station our people there just in case the ralliers spill into the streets),” he explained.
Asked what he would say to people who might be frightened by police presence, Cudan replied, “Ibig sabihin siguro first time ng mga raliyista ‘yun. Pero kung itanong nila sa regular na sumasama sa rally, talagang nakikita nila ‘yung pulis as mga rally nila, halos kasama na nila ‘yan (It probably means it was the first time for those rallyists. But if they ask the people who regularly join rallies, they see the police at their rallies, it’s almost as if they’re companions).”
It was also for their own safety, he said, to avoid anyone getting into a road accident.
“Hindi laging nagra-rally kaya siguro baka hulihin, siyempre iniisip nila walang paalam ‘yun. Pero hindi naman kami totally ganun na, dito sa Quezon City wala naman kaming hinuli talaga na nagrarally na ganun, kung tutuusin, wala namang pahintulot ‘yun (They probably haven’t attended enough rallies to be accustomed to it and, so, were afraid of getting arrested because they didn’t seek a permit for it. But we aren’t all like that, here in Quezon City we haven’t arrested anyone who rallied like that, to think that there wasn’t any permit for that),” he added.